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Highcroft win highlights title day for Acura

31 August 2009

The fastest venue in the American Le Mans Series produced another historic result on Sunday as victory for Patron Highcroft Racing's David Brabham and Scott Sharp clinched the LMP1 manufacturer championship for Acura, the marque's first ALMS title.

Acura's banner day was completed when Luis Diaz and Adrian Fernandez won the LMP2 class for the seventh time in eight races to also wrap up the category drivers' title in the Grand Prix of Mosport, while a day of notable firsts was completed when Corvette Racing's Johnny O'Connell and Jan Magnussen took a first victory with the three-race old GT2-spec Corvette C6.R. It was O'Connell's 100th series start.

Brabham and Sharp drove a trouble-free race to beat the de Ferran Motorsports Acura of Gil de Ferran and Simon Pagenaud by two laps, the most comfortable margin between the two teams for some time. The XM-backed de Ferran led the first half-hour before losing gearbox oil, an issue that plagued the Pagenaud-de Ferran duo throughout. Brabham and Sharp, meanwhile, won for the second straight year at Mosport, having triumphed for Patron Highcroft and Acura in LMP2 last season.

“It's a little ebb and flow,” said Sharp, a three-time winner at Mosport in Trans-Am, “We think we gave a few races away this year - we definitely would have won at Long Beach and should have won Lime Rock, so we helped contribute to [de Ferran's] four-race win streak.

"To get a little bit of that back is a case of 'what goes-around-can-come-around'. The team really rallied well at Lime Rock. We kept our heads up and wanted to keep doing what we're doing. We rolled in here after [an overall victory two weeks ago at] Road America with the same feeling.”

The sixth 1-2 finish for Acura in P1 was more than enough to wrap up the chassis and engine crowns, but there is more at stake for the two Acura teams. Brabham and Sharp extended their driver's championship lead to 17 points with 55 points remaining available over the next two events.

“We knew they were potentially going to have a problem in the race,” Brabham said of the de Ferran crew, “They had some issues in the practices, and we all talk. We were trying not to focus on them, but focus on us and getting the job done.”

The Patrón Highcroft Acura also was the prototype winner of the Michelin Green X Challenge after overcoming not only the de Ferran team, but also Intersport Racing, which saw Jon Field battle for the overall lead early on. Along with son Clint, Field placed third in P1 and fourth overall in Intersport's Lola B06/10-AER.

Fernandez and Diaz grabbed the LMP2 class championship after a fantastic battle with Dyson Racing's Marino Franchitti and Butch Leitzinger. The Dyson Lola B09/86-Mazda coupe led by less than a second with twelve minutes left, but the engine let go and forced Leitzinger to pull off at turn two.

Franchitti had led the race overall early in his stint, and the Lola-Mazda and Acura went back and forth in the last hour, battling through slower - and faster - traffic, but the victory - and championship - appeared in doubt after Fernandez was penalised for speeding in pit-lane.

“We knew that the Dyson car was very fast, and we couldn't stay with them,” team owner Fernandez admitted, “The traffic was the difference. With no traffic, I could stay kind of close. When the penalty happened, the first thing I did was try to regain my focus. We were 15 seconds back and, at that point, I didn't know what was going on with the Mazda, but we were catching them quite quickly. I think they turned the motor down a little bit until the point I was right behind him. Then I could start to smell burning and thought maybe something was wrong.”

Both the Dyson cars led the LMP2 class during the opening stint, with Chris Dyson pitting from the lead at the 48-minute mark, before crashing hard at turn one a couple of laps later. That put the focus on the remaining Dyson coupe and the Acura.

“For me, I think it was a matter of being patient,” Diaz said, “We know we can't fight against these guys in the first part. It's a matter of patience and having good pace. I have to thank Adrian because he is a great boss, a great team-mate and great friend. It has been a great three years with him and I think it is great that we have [achieved] this together.

"When I was growing up racing, he was my idol. Winning this championship with him means a lot to me and it means a lot to people in Mexico. We can compete against anybody. We have a great team all around.”

O'Connell and Magnussen scored a historic victory for Corvette Racing with the team's first success since converting the C6.R to GT2 spec. Magnussen crossed the line 0.331secs ahead of Risi Competizione's Pierre Kaffer, who teamed with Jaime Melo but began the race from the rear of the grid after the car missed qualifying Saturday.

The win at Mosport was the third straight for the O'Connell-Magnussen pairing, and the fourth in their careers. O'Connell won for the seventh time at the circuit, the most of any driver at any venue in the American Le Mans Series, as he made his 100th start.

“This was all about Jan and the crew guys,” the veteran insisted, “They had a great stop to just get him out ahead of the Ferrari and he did what he needed to do to keep us in front. It was just an awesome drive. Jan and I teamed together at Panoz to win here in 1999 - and we were teamed again a couple of years ago with Corvette - and that was the finest drives I've seen. Knowing what he needed to do and not make a mistake... it was great.”

The GT2 battle was the most hotly contested on the day, as BMW, Corvette and Ferrari each led, with the top four cars circling in a line for the better part of 20 minutes. Corvette's quick final pit-stop with slightly less than 30 minutes to go allowed Magnussen to return to the track just in front of Kaffer, who had pitted four minutes earlier. The two cars were side-by-side for one-third of the lap - and even touched going through the turn five hairpin - before Magnussen pulled ahead for good.

“On cold tyres, and as cool as it was, having a good out-lap was key,” Magnussen revealed, “I made it through turn two and kept him on the outside, and we did bump a little.

"The car has been fantastic from the word 'go'. To see that we have been able to turn this into a victory is phenomenal. This was so much fun and was real racing. I asked on the radio how many laps were left - I thought there were two or three - and there were 24. On the last stop, the windshield was completely covered, and the guys told me we weren't going to do anything about it... which was a good thing.”

The second Corvette, crewed by Olivier Beretta and Oliver Gavin, placed third in class, and won the GT trophy for the Michelin Green X Challenge.


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